By Steve McCabe MP
There are not too many issues that attract bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., these days. One exception is a strong cross-party desire to confront Iran’s continuing direct involvement in and sponsorship of extremist violence.
The latest example occurred on October 29, when more than 80 rockets rained down on innocent Iranians in the Camp Liberty refugee center located near the Baghdad International Airport.
The immediate impact was that 24 defenseless individuals, all members of Iran's most organized opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), were killed, and many more were injured.
Iranian dissidents in Iraq are being murdered with impunity. So far, the Western response has been limited to mere words. That may make us feel better, but it won’t change anything. Lack of a proper response has served only to embolden an Iranian regime that continues to suppress and execute its own people while meddling and engaging in acts of violence throughout the Middle East.
This latest attack on Iranian refugees marks a crossroads in our dealings with Iran because it’s a clear case of right and wrong. We promised to protect these people. They are refugees. There are no gray areas such as might be encountered in our dealings with various groups in Syria. This is the fourth such Iranian attack on Camp Liberty in less than two years. Our failure to hold the Iranians and Iraqi authorities to account is severely undermining our credibility in the region.
Let’s not forget, the Iranian regime is active in this way because of its need to maintain control at home. The reality is that its economy is a shambles, internal dissent is omnipresent, and sanctions were having a major impact. These factors, rather than any change of heart, explain its lukewarm support for the nuclear accord.
But the regime is only interested in the illusion of change. It’s a police state, run by a supreme leader and based on a radicalized and reactionary Shiite ideology, which it is determined to export across the region and to the wider world.
President Hassan Rouhani is being allowed to continue his charm offensive and façade of change with little pushback.
Western governments need to confront him over his attacks on Camp Liberty and Iran’s support and encouragement for violent activity. He needs to hear, in no uncertain terms, that the time for verbal condemnation is over and that any further extremist acts or killing of refugees will lead to a resumption of sanctions.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Paris-based principal opposition coalition to Iran's theocratic regime, has said repeatedly that this regime won’t initiate reforms because freedom for ordinary Iranians will result in a rejection of this fundamentalist theocracy.
Instead, the NCRI has urged the free world to recognize and support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people and their desire for change. The NCRI and its president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, have presented a 10-point plan for a new Iran, one that embraces popular rule, human rights, gender equality, separation of state and religion, and peaceful coexistence with Iran's neighbors.
This vision has already given the NCRI widespread support among the Iranian diaspora, as well as within Iran, despite brutal crackdowns by the regime that have resulted in the execution of 120,000 of its members and supporters.
The latest deadly attack on Camp Liberty shows how much of a threat Tehran considers the NCRI and PMOI to be. If the U.S. and EU won’t offer explicit support to the opposition, they still have a role to play in standing up for the democratic process and acknowledging the Iranian people's desire for change.
This is an affirmation of shared values and democratic principles. It is an acknowledgement of the Iranian people’s right to self-determination and humanitarianism in the face of unprecedented brutality.
The road to a free Iran will undoubtedly be long and perhaps bloody. But the West can help make it shorter, with less bloodshed, by living up to the guarantees we gave those at Camp Liberty and demonstrating clearly where we draw the line. That means we should act urgently to protect those in Camp Liberty and signal that we won’t ignore domestic repression or tolerate the export of such violence.
This article first appeared in Newsweek Opinion